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Thousands of people gather to hear Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., during a campaign rally at the Prince William County Fairground, Sept. 14, 2015 in Manassas, Virginia. (Photo: Getty Images)

Wake Up Democrats, Warns Sanders, This Populist Unrest Cannot Be Ignored

Brexit win has much to teach Democrats about Trump threat, warns senator, and elites ignore frustrations of workers and the poor at their own peril

Jon Queally

Cast in a New York Times op-ed published late Tuesday evening, Sen. Bernie Sanders issued a stark warning to the Democratic Party leadership that if they don't wake up to the profound dissatisfaction of the poor and working classes in the United States, they may very well wake up to a similar shock experienced by many in the United Kingdom last week when a majority—fueled largely by financial frustrations—chose to leave the European Union.

"Could this rejection of the current form of the global economy happen in the United States? You bet it could." —Bernie Sanders"Surprise, surprise. Workers in Britain, many of whom have seen a decline in their standard of living while the very rich in their country have become much richer, have turned their backs on the European Union and a globalized economy that is failing them and their children," Sanders writes.

"Could this rejection of the current form of the global economy happen in the United States?" he later asks. "You bet it could."

Citing troubling metrics of massive income and wealth inequality both in the U.S. and around the globe, Sanders said the xenophobia and regressiveness represented by the rise of Donald Trump within the Republican Party and Friday's vote in favor of Brexit in the UK is the result of increasing numbers of people around the world who recognize that the economic system is designed to disproportionately benefit the rich and powerful, not them.

Progressives voices in the U.S. and Europe have been warning throughout the economic downturn which began with the financial meltdown of 2007 that if governments continued to ignore the root causes of inequality and the political demands of working class people, they would ultimately empower the xenophobic and fascist forces of the far-right.

Sanders' public warning comes as many establishment figures within the Democratic Party and in the corporate media express increasing levels of frustration that Sanders has yet to formally suspend his campaign and endorse the presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton.  However, many rank-and-file Democrats have said they support Sanders' staying in the race through to the convention. Meanwhile—in addition to saying he will vote for Clinton in November—he has repeatedly explained that his primary goals now are to push the party in a more progressive direction while also ensuring that Donald Trump is not elected president in the fall. The warning contained in his op-ed, does not appear to contradict any of these aims.

"Let’s be clear," Sanders writes. "The global economy is not working for the majority of people in our country and the world. This is an economic model developed by the economic elite to benefit the economic elite. We need real change."

What's not needed and must be vigorously opposed, he added, is "the demagogy, bigotry and anti-immigrant sentiment that punctuated so much of the Leave campaign’s rhetoric—and is central to Donald J. Trump’s message."

What's needed instead to combat those forces, according to Sanders, is:

  • a president who will vigorously support international cooperation that brings the people of the world closer together, reduces hypernationalism and decreases the possibility of war;
  • a president who respects the democratic rights of the people, and who will fight for an economy that protects the interests of working people, not just Wall Street, the drug companies and other powerful special interests;
  • to fundamentally reject our “free trade” policies and move to fair trade;
  • to end the international scandal in which large corporations and the wealthy avoid paying trillions of dollars in taxes to their national governments;
  • to create tens of millions of jobs worldwide by combating global climate change and by transforming the world’s energy system away from fossil fuels; and
  • international efforts to cut military spending around the globe and address the causes of war: poverty, hatred, hopelessness and ignorance.

Amid an ongoing battle over the drafting of a new Democratic Party platform, Sanders argues that it is exactly the wrong time to put a lid on the populist demands that so many Democratic, progressive, and independent voters so clearly desire.

"The notion that Donald Trump could benefit from the same forces that gave the Leave proponents a majority in Britain should sound an alarm for the Democratic Party in the United States," the Sanders op-ed warns. "Millions of American voters, like the Leave supporters, are understandably angry and frustrated by the economic forces that are destroying the middle class." 

But in what is a "pivotal" historical moment, he concludes, "the Democratic Party and a new Democratic president need to make clear that we stand with those who are struggling and who have been left behind. We must create national and global economies that work for all, not just a handful of billionaires."


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